(If you’re curious, my review process. It’s also pasted at the end of this post. I don’t believe in Rotten Tomatoes. I just believe in me.)
(***all-purpose SPOILER ALERT*** there may be some in this review)
SW SCORE: 32
3 out of 5 🐙
John Sayles’s Casa De Los Babys is about the international baby market. Because adoption agencies in the United States are overwhelmed with demand, infertile couples head overseas to Korea or Mexico to start their United Nations families. Casa
follows the tense waiting of six American women in Mexico. Aware of their precious commodity, the Mexican adoption ministry forces these women to live in the country while they wait for their adoption process to go through. The women are strongly advised to hire local lawyers and, of course, are compelled to support the local hospitality industry. With months of waiting ahead of them, the Yanqui women gravitate towards each other and form a modern day knitting circle to discuss their adoption prospects, fertility medicine, Mexican culture and other issues.
The cast is top-notch. These players have a war chest of awards and nominations, including three academy awards, one golden globe and two Emmys. The six American women are played by Darryl Hannah, Marcia Gay Harden, Mary Steenburgen, Lili Taylor, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Susan Lynch. Their performances are poignant, veteran and painful. Each potential mother has a sad story to tell, and each actress delivers these tales with proper respect and realism. They all stay at a nearby hotel run by Senora Munoz, played by the eminent Rita Moreno. Unlike her guest, Moreno has a child.
Unfortunately, he is a thirty-five-year-old, unemployed, wannabe social revolutionary who spends most of his time sleeping on the front porch. Munoz is stuck with a grown man who behaves like a baby. Her plucky and above-it-all cynicism provides plenty of humor. She’s in cahoots with the adoption ministry but her no bullshit pragmatism and biting sense of humor make her a pleasure to watch. The six little “dwarf-ettes” comprise a gaggle of neurosis.
Nan (Harden), the borderline racist and obsessive compulsive, has no problem letting the audience know her opinion of Mexican culture. But her attacks, like most bigots, come from a closet full of her own insecurities. Gyllenhaal’s young, idealistic Jennifer is married to a rich, powerful man. Their marriage is on the rocks and he is barely aware of her suffering. He doesn’t even notice when she is holding back sobs on a phone conversation. Skipper, the holistic, fitness obsessed survivor of ironic health related disasters, is kind and balanced. Her patience holds her suffering below the surface and we can tell she her hope outweighs her past. Steenburgen and Taylor play the lesbian couple, Gayle and Leslie respectively. Gayle is strong and measured. She is optimistic and content with her lot. She has to be because her lover is a ball of cynicism. Taylor is the
movie’s comic relief. She doesn’t hold anything back, and she wears her war wounds from heterosexual romance on her chest with pride. She’s the friend you want to get drinks with when you’ve been unfairly jilted because you know she has your back. Finally, Eileen, played by Lynch, is the purity. There is no ulterior motive in her soul. She just wants to be a good mother, and her five-minute monologue about her motherly vision is a tour de force. It was long, but just finishing it and keeping a constant emotional rudder throughout the speech is impressive enough.
Sayles will always attract fine actors because his movies are smart, and they explore complicated issues. Complexity and intelligence are not mainstream Hollywood staples. However, Sayles likes to keep it a bit too real. He likes to talk and have his characters talk. But nothing happens. It is a movie about waiting and the characters do just that. It is the world’s longest panel discussion show. And when it does end, it’s not satisfying. He leaves the fates of characters that the audience has come to love up in the air. He seems to be telling the audience that “your interpretation is just as valid as mine.” Independent filmmaking should not be like Hollywood, but this time Sayles’ ending didn’t feel empowering. It felt abrupt and like a copout.
(1) Shark Wrighter (SW) Score: Based on a sum of 5 sub-scores (acting, directing, writing/story, effects: cinematography &/or animation &/or effects, editing) with 1 being terrible and 10 being terrific.
(2) Octopuses (0-5 🐙, with 5 being fantastic and 0 being feces)
(3) Octopuses are my unquantifiable feeling…not that SW score is scientific…but this one is even less so
(4) ++ This optional section includes any incredibly *brilliant observations that don’t fit into simple quantitative slices like the scores and octopuses *(they are likely NOT brilliant)